If you’re a parent, you know the dilemma: When and how to explain the reasoning behind a rule you must impose on your children. Do you tell them: A) Nothing, because “That’s just how it is”? B) Just enough for them to understand the logic behind the rule, and the main consequence of breaking it, but not so much that they can push back? Or, C) Every last nuance and thought informing the rule, so they can see where you’re coming from with total transparency, why it’s important that they not overstep these boundaries, and the many undesirable things that can happen if they choose to anyway?
I don’t see that there’s any best answer here, only parenting styles — the usual complicated interface between parent and child, between one (usually) already formed personality and an emerging one that makes the dance so interesting. For myself, I usually go with (B) or (C) because I know that my son, like me, has a mind filled with curiosity and will respond better if I can answer his questions and take the time to do so. So when we cross the street, I always say, “Little man, take dada’s hand now so we can watch for cars together.” Not, “Take my hand or we don’t cross” or whatever variation on option (A) comes to mind — the A in (A) readily standing for “Authoritarian” if we’re being honest here. And this same “A” also slotting quite nicely into the word tantrum, which is much more likely to erupt if I decree, “We’re doing it my way because that’s just how it is,” without taking the time to listen to his toddler-speak questions or lend an ear to his viewpoint or to consider that mine might not be the only legitimate solution, even though I’m ostensibly the more informed member of the party.
OK, well, then, here is my tantrum for the day, because I’ve been seeing some examples of option (A) in the response to the book I’ve written, Death Grip. The book details the reality that I, like so many other people, when trying to break free of psychiatric drugging/dependence/addiction — in my case, primarily issues with benzodiazepines — was instead subjected to further psychiatric drugging, which increased my suffering, quite nearly killed me, and derailed my healing for a non-negligible period of time.
This is what is so tiresome about the all-pervading mainstream narrative, the “broken brain” and “chemical imbalance” fantasy so glibly and unquestioningly purveyed through the usual media outlets, psychiatric propaganda, and those odious 60-second commercials during the nightly news: That even those of us, the survivors, who speak from experience, with nothing to gain from sharing our stories and in fact a hell of a lot to lose by putting ourselves out there in today’s heinous political climate surrounding “mental illness,” remain ever subject to the far-reaching tentacles of option (A) — in this case the psychopharmaceutical-industrial complex. In other words, by putting our stories out there, even told in our own words, we still risk having them revised or repudiated at every turn by the very people who, and paradigm which, sickened us.
To me, it feels like I’m the poor kid who keeps getting bullied on the schoolyard, but then the bully magically always gets to the principal’s office first to lie that I started it — and the real story never emerges. Or like I’m some poor Manga maiden being violated by a rapacious, waving-tentacled octopus she’s been trying desperately to flee. Or something.
If you’re a survivor, you know exactly what I mean.
The vestigial and often tactile memories of our physical and emotional torment while drugged up or subject to procedures like ECT, and while healing from said damage; the breakdown of trust in medicine and our faith in humanity; the stripping away of our human rights; the onion-skin unpeeling of reality to reveal the raw nuclear truth that a great number of people in “mental health” are basically uncaring, cynical, self-protecting, and close-minded: these things stay with you for the rest of your life. You do not see the world as it was ever again — it is like the grim grey inversion of man’s “sunlit world of what he believes to be reality” that creeps over the pastoral scenes during the old Tales from the Dark Side TV-show opener. Having seen what truly lies beneath, you cannot ever again entertain optimistic and doe-eyed naiveté about the beneficence of modern society, or you’ll be swallowed up anew. When anyone, anywhere, impinges on your person, you feel a cold, creeping fear deep in your bowels and go immediately into battle mode.
That’s what it means to be a survivor of psychiatry, of any victimization. For myself, I will never again compromise on what I know to be true.
So when in the course of talking to journalists about Death Grip or receiving feedback about the book indirectly from acquaintances in the mental-health profession, I’ve seen the tentacles creep back in, I’ve become disheartened. Is it not the point of writing such a book to offer a standalone narrative that tells our side of the story? Why do we have to hear from Statler and Waldorf up in their box seats? Why can’t they just sit down and shut the hell up? Have we not heard enough from them already?
A couple of examples: In two of the newspaper articles about the book, the writers also sought the opinion of a local doctor, in one case a psychiatrist, in the other the director of an addictions program. Now, I graduated from journalism school and I also do this for a living, so I realize that the authors, both of whom seemed like good guys, are just doing their jobs: it’s boilerplate journalism to solicit multiple sources, including experts in the relevant field. And both writers did a great job of conveying the basic message of the book, which is that benzos taken long term can be extremely dangerous and that I went through hell, as do many others, getting off. However, we also miss the point of the narrative by seeking such outside experts, unfamiliar with the book or the evidence presented therein — or quite possibly antagonistic to the book’s basic message — to “validate” my story.
The problem as I see it and as is borne out by the many other articles on this site — from personal histories, to research pieces, to meta-analyses of clinical studies — is that a great number of the “experts in the field” are in fact contributing to these very issues, by treating med dependency or the damage thereby caused with further drugging. By treating minor life issues like anxiety or a depressive episode as pathologies meriting “treatment” with polydrug fusillades. By not offering anyone a drug-free alternative or the hope that there could ever be one. And by telling people, as they did with me, that we’re permanently broken and must always be medicated or things will get even worse.
Because “That’s just how it is.”
How soul-snuffing and hopeless.
To wit, from the psychiatrist: “’People who have a tendency toward addiction may be inclined to take more [benzos] than prescribed, which can cause the anxiety to bounce back,’ something called the ‘rebound effect.’” OK, well, anyway… To me, this seems like a suspiciously convenient way to blame patients for the damage wrought by a drug known to downregulate GABA receptors in the human brain, causing potential anxiety issues for, well, anyone who takes benzos long-term. However, by this doctor’s logic, the only ones who suffer rebound anxiety in benzo withdrawal are people who take more than they’re prescribed or who have tendencies toward addiction? I must disagree. The research of Dr. Heather Ashton and the thousands of testimonials shared online by people who took benzos exactly as prescribed and have never had substance-abuse issues yet still experienced horrific rebound anxiety certainly speak otherwise. And I will say personally that, “addictive personality” or not, “dependent” or “addicted” or whatever, when I went to withdraw from benzos, I had not been taking more than prescribed, I tapered at a rate sanctioned by the prescribing psychiatrist, I was not abusing any other substances, and I experienced an anxiety so unrelenting and extreme that it can only be described as terror.
Then, from the addictions expert: “Benzodiazepine recovery requires the use of other anxiety-reducing drugs, ‘or else the anxiety will become overwhelming.’ Again, I disagree, and more of the reasons for my stance are explained in the book, explicitly because I lived through them. Every time I was placed on another “anxiety-reducing drug,” from antidepressants, to antiepileptic mood stabilizers, to lithium, to nebulous off-label darlings like gabapentin, I only got sicker, more labile, more desperate, more anxious, and more hopeless. I only grew more confused and snowed under by the additional psychotropic agents. Which was the entire point of writing Death Grip: to show what a trap it had all been.
During that period, I also lost hope. Not only because of how dreadful I felt physically and emotionally, but also because my overarching goal, and one I expressed to the doctors, remained breaking free from psychiatric medications, to uncover the real me underneath it all. (Yet never mind this; my taper, I was repeatedly told, had to be approached from a “place of strength,” which always and ever meant more “anxiety-reducing” drugs because “That’s just how it is.”) And because when I, of my own volition, peeled away these “anxiety-reducing” drugs once free of said doctors, each “mini” withdrawal heaped atop the monolithic horror that was benzo withdrawal only made the underlying condition worse, leading to dark blocks of time in which I was not certain I could endure another second.
Yes; like that.
If you’ve come off a psychiatric medication or multiple drugs, then you know exactly what I mean.
Again, I have nothing to gain by putting this perspective there. I’m not trying to sell books — and very few people get rich doing so, unless you write about post-apocalyptic vampire-zombies making smoochie-face with dreamy yet tormented werewolf-wizards — or promote a one-man brand. I’m not selling supplements or meditation CDs or action figures or “benzo withdrawal” beer cozies. I’m simply trying to tell my story as I lived it, because I know exactly what I went through and why, and I don’t think anyone else should have to suffer this way if they need not do so.
Not because I know best or because “That’s just how it is,” but because I believe mine is a perspective worth sharing, so that others as thinking, rational humans may draw their own conclusions and make better-informed decisions about their health.
Once the snow melts this afternoon, I’ll take our little guy out for a walk, and we will need to cross the street to get down to the creek. I’m already anticipating his resistance when I first take his hand at the curb, maybe a quick “No-no-no” and head shake until I stop, take a few seconds to listen, get down on his level, and say, “Now, buddy, you know we need to do this together. I hear you, but you need to take dada’s hand so we both feel safe.”
Listening, talking, questions, dialogue, entertaining the perspective of another — when was such vital interaction bled from a health-care arena that purports to treat the very seat of the human soul? Or perhaps it’s better to ask, Was it even ever there in the first place?
Matt Samet, a freelance writer and editor in Colorado, maintains a Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/mattsametauthor and has detailed his story in a memoir, Death Grip, from St. Martin’s Press.
Mad in America hosts blogs by a diverse group of writers. These posts are designed to serve as a public forum for a discussion—broadly speaking—of psychiatry and its treatments. The opinions expressed are the writers’ own.